Work on the new Riverside PS playground nearing completion

Riverside PS principal Brent Hatcher poses with students in front of the partially completed naturalized playground in Elmira on May 1. [Veronica Reiner / The Observer]

An all-natural playground is expected to be completely constructed at Riverside Public School in Elmira by May 9.

The work is getting done in short order, but the journey to raise the required $96,000 lasted more than five years.

The money came through a variety of fundraising events, charitable funds and donations from parents and local businesses. The playground is expected to be a community resource as the subdivision surrounding the school continues to grow.

“The entire parent community has contributed to fundraising,” said Jenny Soehner, a kindergarten teacher at the school. “Our committee sent out phone calls and emails to lots of local businesses. We’re really lucky that some of those businesses were ready to jump on board and help us.”

While the committee has finally achieved its goal, there were setbacks along the way. Most recently, a hoped-for $18,000 from Woolwich Township failed to materialize when council decided the community were responsible for raising the money, as is the case with similar recreation projects. That forced a bit of a scramble to get the last of the funds in place.

The group also lost four days of construction due to the spring ice storm in mid-April. The team had to work harder to keep up with their construction schedule.

But their endless determination to complete the project allowed them to overcome all of these obstacles, says Riverside’s principal.

“It was amazing to see how quickly the community stepped up to offer support,” said Brent Hatcher. “Starting with the tenacity of a number of parents and staff members who called and visited local businesses and ending with those businesses providing donations of various amounts. Riverside’s creative play space is truly the result of a community effort.”

The project was awarded to Earthscape, an Ontario-based custom playground design/build company. The playground will include climbing and balance equipment, an accessible stage and log seating, gardens, two separate sandboxes, a hill slide and accessible pathways that connect to all play areas. The school will also include a mud kitchen constructed by students at Kitchener Collegiate Institute.

The school puts a real focus on outdoor learning. Math and science classes are now being taught outside at Riverside. This is a trend that is becoming a lot more common in kindergarten across the school board.

“I really feel passionately about the need for children to be outside regularly. Not just for 15 minutes here and there,” said Soehner. “And it’s probably a growing epidemic that a lot of people are aware of that children don’t spend as much time outside. That is part of the reason our principal has been really adamant that we have a naturalized playground. It’s really important for children to connect with nature.”

The school is determined to further the project with the inclusion of an outdoor learning space. The plan is to plant 23 native trees and a variety of shrubs, garden features and bird boxes within the school grounds.

“We’re trying to raise $10,000 right now to put into the trees,” said Soehner. “We are currently writing grant proposals for raising money for that part. We are also doing other fundraising initiatives through the school to raise money for that. Our hope is that we would be able to install all of the trees by fall.”

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